Friday, July 29, 2011

Welcome to Koshien, Meet Nichidai-San -- FOR REAL! Yoshinaga strikes out 14 and Sanko beats Sojitsu 2-1!

This boy...

is going back to this place!


So yeah, fairly close final game to close up the West Tokyo qualifiers, between Nichidai San and Waseda Jitsugyo. In 2006, these two teams also faced off, and Waseda's ace at the time was this kid named Yuki Saitoh. You may have heard of him. Waseda won in the 11th inning and went to Koshien, and the rest is history. Saitoh went on to beat Ma-kun and Komadai Tomakomai and stop their 3-peat, and set the rest of the country on a rage for blue handkerchiefs. Half of Sanko's team went on to attend Meiji University and spent the next four years still trying to beat Saitoh and Waseda. (Fumiya Araki did a fairly good job and found his way back to Koshien as a Hanshin Tiger.)

This year's Sanko team, aka the Azegami squad, has been pretty magical. They've got all the parts of a successful team there -- a strong-hitting and strong-fielding outfield in Taniguchi, Azegami, and Takayama, a bunch of power bats in Yokoo and Suganuma, a strong infield in Shimizu and Kaneko, a rock behind the plate in Suzuki, and most importantly, something else Sanko's lacked in the last few years -- a true ace in the form of Kentaro Yoshinaga. As long as he could keep things together, they would win. And today he certainly did -- 14 strikeouts to win it 2-1.

It was a deadlock of a 0-0 game until the 5th, when Yuta Taniguchi, batting 9th, got hit in the head by a pitch -- literally, it was just a high curve that curved into the front of his helmet. Taniguchi stole second, and 2nd-year Ryoya Kaneko hit a double to center to score Taniguchi to make it 1-0.

The boy I've dubbed "Secret Power", Kenichi Suganuma, launched a homer in the 6th to make it 2-0.

Waseda threatened in the top of the 7th when Watanabe led off with a double and was bunted to 3rd; during Shigenobu's at-bat, Yoshinaga threw a wild pitch into the dirt that bounced up and Watanabe was able to score on it to make the score 2-1. But fortunately Yoshinaga then struck out Shigenobu and Manabe to end the threat, and that was kind of the game right there.

I was able to watch the game on (though with no sound, so I had to guess that the men they were interviewing in the stands were Yoshinaga and Suzuki's dads, for example), and it was really great to see them win. Yoshinaga couldn't stop crying afterwards. It's got to be a big weight off his shoulder -- the ghosts of the last time Sanko and Sojitsu faced off in addition to what people have called the "Jingu Taikai curse", meaning that the team who wins the Jingu Taikai can't have further success at Koshien that year. Who knows?

Anyway, this is the high school team that I irrationally fell for this year, and you have no idea how tempting it is to get a plane ticket to Osaka. Alas. (And yes, that second photo is me at Senbatsu this spring...)

Friday Fake Foto: 1987 Koshien Magazine Scans

I'm calling this a "fake photo" because I didn't take these photographs. No, these are from one of the gems of my tendency to always look through the baseball magazines of any Book-Off I went to in Japan, just to see what oddball stuff might end up there. One time, I found a copy of the 1987 issue of 甲子園の恋人たち, a Koshien photobook magazine that seems to have mostly been around in the 1980's, for 350 yen.

Guys who went to Koshien in 1987 are basically all 41 or 42 years old now, so it's pretty amusing to look back at the photos of them as teenagers. (What's even weirder is, while I recognized a whole bunch of the players in here, I'm sure there were even more guys that went pro but were already finished way before I would have heard of them.)

So in honor of the fact that Koshien is starting in slightly over a week, and for another reason that'll become obvious at the end of this post, I decided to scan in a few things from this magazine. Some are just magazine pages, others are from the 3x3 "cards" pages they had in the back of the book. (Not real cards, though they called them that in the table of contents.)

Some Young Whippersnapper Catcher From Shimane

Proof that Motonobu Tanishige is not, infact, a robot from another planet. (And may be infact be the best catcher of the last 20 years in Japan not named Furuta.)

A Pro Golfer. You've Probably Heard Of His Brother

Izumi Kuwata, who also played baseball at PL Gakuen, two years behind his brother Masumi, though Izumi was an outfielder, not a pitcher. He's still an active pro golfer in Japan.

Here There Be Dragonlings

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, who seems to have been the biggest superstar of this Koshien class, judging by this magazine and others from the time period. Also one of the greatest Japanese baseball players of all-time.

Another Spaceman From Teikyo To The Fighters

Hiroshi Shibakusa, who had a long career pitching for the Fighters, a few years of doing other stuff, and is now back with the team as a pitching coach. (His name is pronounced "hiroshi" but the kanji are for "space". I think it had something to do with him being born in the summer of 1969.)

Some Pitcher From Tochigi, or A Whale Of An Infielder

At the time of the 1987 Koshien, this guy was named "Tadanori Ishii" and he was pitching for Ashikaga high school. 4 years later, after winning one game as a pro pitcher for the Yokohama Taiyo Whales, he converted into an infielder and changed his name to Takuro Ishii, and went on to get over 2000 hits in an excellent career as a shortstop, mostly with Yokohama. He'll be 42 next month and is still occasionally in the starting lineup as a 3rd baseman with the Hiroshima Carp, because he's JUST THAT AWESOME.

When Tigers Fade

Patrick and I were just talking about Atsushi Kataoka, so this is for him.

Kokorozashi, or Barnstorming All The Way To Lancaster

Toshihisa Nishi was a Koshien star with Ibaraki's Joso Gakuin HS, then Waseda, then the damn Giants. I'll still remember him best leading off for the Baystars, though. He retired last year after playing in the indie leagues in the US.

He Shocked Us In Many Ways, Including His Last.

This is a boy named Hideki Irabu, who you may have heard of. His career was always one of ups and downs, and his life probably wasn't easy a lot of the time as a half-Japanese kid trying to hide that fact, but it's interesting to look back and see him smiling out from a page like this, and think of what kind of future people imagined for this big fireballer back then...

I'm intending to do an Irabu photopost sometime soon, since I never did get around to doing one when I saw him pitch in the summer of 2009, on what was my first great Koshien roadtrip, so this seems like an appropriate time for it anyway.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kokoyakyu: Welcome to Koshien, Meet Nichidai San (Part 3)

Part 3 in a series. See Part 1, See Part 2.

As we close in on the finals of the summer taikai, I find myself wanting to revisit and finish my monster Nichidai San posts from the spring. They did infact go on to win the entire Tokyo spring taikai, though that shouldn't really surprise anyone, and now they're contending for a spot at summer Koshien. I started this series of posts as a sort of glorified "Sanko Senbatsu Photopost", and then got distracted.

Last time I covered the first 4 of the lineup -- oddly, the lineup I saw at the Jingu Taikai last year, and the lineup at Senbatsu, and the lineup in the West Tokyo Qualifying Tournament, hasn't significantly changed between then and now, although the last 5 spots tend to get switched around a bit. The only thing is, I found a lot more stuff written about the first four guys in the lineup than the next four, to be sure. They're certainly all strong players though -- none of these guys is a weak spot in the lineup at all, and every one of them is prone to launch a homer at any time (and has).

The Youngster, Ryoya Kaneko
(HS meikan)

This year's power team is almost all 3rd-years with the exception of Kaneko, the sole 2nd-year in the starting 9. (Which practically guarantees he'll be team captain next year, although there are certainly a few other 2nd-years on the 18-man roster.) Despite being one of the youngest on the team, Kaneko is also listed as being one of the tallest on the team, at 180cm. He's said to have a really good batting eye and is expected to develop into a power hitter when he fills out, which bodes well for him as a lefty-batting first baseman.

Kaneko also played for the All-Tokyo team when the Urban Youth Academy came over for a few friendship games in June, again being one of the only underclassmen.

Shortstop Koki Shimizu

Voted by the rest of his team as the biggest "yancha", which kinda means "pain in the ass", Shimizu is a solid shortstop with strong footwork. You probably wouldn't notice how good he is because he's one of those stealthy shortstop types like Hirokazu Ibata.

The Secret Power, Kenichi Suganuma

Suganuma didn't particularly appear to be a huge power threat when I saw him, and he batted only .235 during that Senbatsu, but then he went on to hit 4 homers in the Tokyo Spring Taikai, which was pretty insane. Shimizu claims that Suganuma's become a "weight baka", and he said (in the Kagayake Koshien no Hoshi magazine) that he went from being able to lift 45kg to 90kg in a year.

Suganuma usually wears uniform number 7, and was ostensibly the left fielder at some point, but has been playing second base in pretty much every official game Sanko's had in 2011. I'm guessing that he works together well with Shimizu, though I recall him being a decent 2nd baseman in the games I saw him in...

Taking One For The Team - catcher Takahiro Suzuki
(HS meikan)

Here are your normal photos of catcher Takahiro Suzuki -- smiling by the dugout, bunting up the runner, both of which he's good at. But what really made Suzuki a hero in the eyes of many high school baseball fans is what happened in the top of the 8th inning of this game, on March 25, 2011. I happened to be sitting behind the dugout for this just because I wanted to see Sanko, so I also had a great angle for what happened.

Edwin's blog recount and the Sanko blog recount (in Japanese).

Basically an errant throw to the plate bounced and hit Suzuki in the face, and it allowed Meitoku to score a go-ahead run. The game paused for a while as Suzuki kind of got knocked out, and they put a towel to his mouth as he appeared to have a bloody lip and might have lost a tooth. I was using my zoom lens as a binoculars to figure out what was going on, and got the following shots...

The game paused for a bit, and then Suzuki did what was way above and beyond the call of duty -- he came back out after a few minutes, finished the inning, and then in the bottom of the 8th, with runners at first and second, he said he wanted to bat, went to the plate, and SMACKED ONE to the center field wall, scoring Suganuma and Yoshinaga to bring Sanko up 6-5 over Meitoku, which is where the game would end.

The Sanko blog describes it as "Covered in blood and sweat, Suzuki showed his fighting spirit and hit the go-ahead 2-RBI double."

Here's a Youtube Video recap of the game. If you go to about minute 10:45 you can see what happens -- Suganuma's throw to the plate and Suzuki going down. Then at 12:04 Suzuki comes up to bat, clearly with a bloody lip, and BAM. I've seen players play through a lot of random things, but this was definitely up there.

Anyway, the great postscript to this is that Suzuki -- who has been described more as "the guy catching Yoshinaga, a solid but not spectacular player", in the Tokyo Spring Taikai final game against Kosei... the game went into extra innings, and Sanko even brought in Yoshinaga to pitch, who had largely not been pitching in that tournament. Anyway, Sanko does win the game... on a walkoff grand slam by Suzuki.


And now that I'm finishing this, Sanko and Waseda Jitsugyo are slated to face each other in 2 days. I'll try to put my Yoshinaga monster photopost out before then...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tokyo Big 6 Spring 2011 Best Nine, stats, etc

This post is about a month and a half late. I actually ran the numbers for it a while ago (I hoped to tell Hayata Itoh exactly how much he dominated the league even though he missed the triple crown by one hit, but I didn't really get to talk to him at the Japan-US tournament), but well, you know, hopping between Seattle and San Francisco is time-consuming.

When last we visited our heroes, it was just after Week 6 of the season, and there was this complex dependency chart of who had to win what to win. If Rikkio went 2-0, which they did, then Keio had to win Soukeisen to win the league, which they did.

It never gets old seeing Keio pound Waseda, even though I know that right now Waseda is pathetically bad. I caught the final game over; Daisuke Takeuchi was Keio's starter. Just as I was watching in the 3rd, Keio got a few runners on, captain Hayata Itoh came up to bat, and I'm like "He's gonna knock one, just watch" and sure enough, BLAM, liner to right field, 2-RBI double. Waseda did threaten to catch up a little, and made it all the way to 4-3, but Koji Fukutani came in and pitched the last half of the game and was AMAZING! He even hit 155 km/h on the Jingu guns a few times -- the only other recent Big 6 guy to do that was Ohishi and I keep saying Fukutani is BETTER, and god knows I used to talk about how awesome Ohishi was all the damn time.

Keio won the league, Daisuke was crying, Itoh was smiling up a storm, etc, they had a doage, and my three favorite boys were the game heroes as well. And in Itoh's interview, when they mentioned he was one hit short of the triple crown (17-for-42 .405 to Yuji Naka's 23-for-55 .418), he's like "Oh man. Well, we won the league, that's what really counts, right?" But then he admitted something like "One more hit? Only one? Yeah... I guess I suck for being that close..." Either way, Itoh had the most RBIs in the league with 17, homers with 4, and then he also walked 12 times to Naka's 4.

Anyway, on that note, let me post some season-summarizing stuff:

Best Nine
Pos Name College Yr. Votes Times High School

P Masato Komuro Rikkio 3 18 1 Hino
C Naoki Harada Hosei 4 16 1 Ube Shogyo
1B Ikuhiro Takeda Meiji 4 10 1 Hotoku Gakuen
2B Keisuke Okazaki Rikkio 4 16 1 PL Gakuen
3B Ren Yamasaki Keio 3 21 1 Keio
SS Koichiro Matsumoto Rikkio 2 17 2 Yokohama
OF Hayata Itoh Keio 4 22 3 Chukyodai Chukyo
OF Yuji Naka Rikkio 4 22 1 Osaka Toin
OF Hiroaki Shimauchi Meiji 4 17 1 Seiryo

Full vote is 22, and it's clear that big-hitting outfielders are everyone's favorites. I'm guessing Hosei's Hiroshi Taki took the other 1B votes that Takeda didn't (they were both up there on the batting, but Taki made 2 errors). It's also awesome to see Naoki Harada get a Best Nine -- he's a really great guy who was mostly just a random baseball club member for 3 years, and kind of had to be a backup catcher behind Ishikawa and then Hiromoto and Doi, but now as a senior and co-captain of the Hosei team got a decent chunk of playing time and really put it to good use. It's a little funny because I was positive that Meiji's Kawabe and Waseda's Ichimaru would be the ones vying for the catcher Best Nine this semester, and both of them had pretty lousy results.

I'm happy to see Komuro get a Best Nine, because he literally carried his team on his back this semester -- he led the league in IP at 66.2, and appeared in 10 out of 14 of the games his team played. The only person even close to logging that much time was Yusuke Nomura, who pitched 65 innings in 9 games, the difference being that Komuro made multiple appearances every weekend except vs. Todai. He also led the league in wins -- here are the top 4 in innings logged (and, of course, wins -- nobody else had more than 45 IP or 4 wins):

Pitcher College Games W L IP ERA WHIP
Komuro Rikkio 10/14 6 2 66.2 1.35 1.11
Nomura Meiji 9/14 5 3 65 2.07 0.78
Mikami Hosei 8/13 4 2 47.2 2.26 1.32
Takeuchi Keio 11/13 5 2 46.1 2.13 1.19

Also, I stalked Komuro briefly outside Jingu during opening weekend and told him I'd cheer for him this semester, so I feel like I had to stick to that. :)

As an aside, after last semester I compared Yusuke Nomura to Koji Fukutani as a case for the Best Nine, and noted that Nomura's peripherals were far superior to Fukutani's in terms of strikeout and walk rates. I'm proud to note that it's no longer the case, but this is largely because Fukutani became Keio's closer, and still put in 30 innings for the semester, just that this time they were all the last 2-3 innings of every Keio game. He didn't even give up a run at all until 3/4 of the way through the season, though...

Here's Spring 2010 Nomura vs. Fukutani:

Fukutani 61.1 43 0 19 1.01 237 18.1% 8.0% 18.1%
Nomura 55.1 48 0 8 1.01 216 25.0% 3.7% 22.2%

And here's Spring 2011 Nomura vs. Fukutani:

Fukutani 30.1 17 0 5 0.73 107 37.4% 4.6% 15.89%
Nomura 65 44 1 7 0.78 243 28.0% 2.9% 18.11%

Seriously, these two are the best pitchers in Big 6 right now, at least when it comes to control. Nomura simply does not walk batters or give up home runs to them. Infact, his only home run was given up to Hosei's Ryosuke Itoh, the kid from Shinko Gakuen who hit 94 homeruns in his high school career.

Also, the craziest thing is that despite being the 9th highest in the league in terms of IP, Fukutani was the 3rd highest in the league in terms of strikeouts (Nomura 68, Komuro 43, and Fukutani 40). Those are Ohishi-esque numbers if nothing else. Of course, I've been getting a little bit of flack for having been such a huge Tatsuya Ohishi fangirl when he's been struggling to adjust to the pros so far, so maybe it isn't in my better interest to point out how similar Fukutani is developing as a closer.

Another Yusuke Nomura tidbit, just repeating here from a few months ago: his 68 strikeouts put him above 300 strikeouts in his Big 6 career. It'd take a miracle for him to get to 30 wins too, I think -- he's currently at a 24-11 record. It wouldn't be impossible, just a lot longer shot than if he went in with 25.

Batting and ERA champs

Batting champion: Yuji Naka, Rikkio, .418/.450/.527
ERA champion: Koji Fukutani, Keio, 1-0, 0.59

I don't mean to be dissing Naka at all, because a .418 batting average is nothing to sneeze at. He only had 2 hitless games all semester, 8 multihit games (out of 14), and bizarrely, those multihit games were NOT against Todai (though Todai accounts for 2 of his 4 walks).

But well, I mentioned that I started running stats in order to show exactly how awesome Hayata Itoh was this semester, right...?

Other "Relevant" Stats
I realize that 11-13 games and 50ish plate appearances are not a huge sample size, but well, that's what you get in a season here.

Top 10 Batters by OPS:

(K4) Hayata Itoh .405/.527/.857 1.384
(R4) Yuji Naka .418/.450/.527 .977
(H3) Kento Tatebe .294/.390/.569 .958
(M4) Hiroaki Shimauchi .385/.467/.487 .954
(H3) Hiroshi Taki .320/.393/.500 .893
(M2) Hiroki Nakashima .270/.370/.486 .856
(R3) Koichiro Matsumoto .288/.377/.462 .839
(R4) Keisuke Okazaki .282/.396/.436 .832
(K3) Ren Yamasaki .269/.367/.462 .829
(K4) Masaki Miyamoto .278/.378/.417 .794

WTF? No, really, WTF? I think this is seriously the first time since I've been doing these that a guy made it into the top ten OPS with less than .800...

Also, if it's not clear, Itoh completely dominated the Big 6 league at the plate this year. He led the league with homeruns with 4 (Hosei's Kawai had 3 but he didn't have enough PA to make it into batting leaders with his .143/.314/.500 line in 35 PA), led the league in walks with 12 (the next highest two were Keio's Fukutomi and Meiji's Uemoto with 9 each), and nobody even remotely came close to him on OBP or SLG with enough plate appearances to count.

Meiji's co-captain and all-around-nice-guy Masataka Nakamura is the stolen base leader with 10.

Team batting:

Keio .265/.335/.397 .732 9 11 12
Hosei .256/.330/.402 .732 11 12 14
Rikkio .284/.333/.381 .714 5 19 12
Meiji .239/.305/.307 .612 2 22 8
Waseda .223/.277/.277 .554 1 9 8
Tokyo .203/.255/.237 .492 0 6 9

Despite Todai ostensibly sucking, they were actually much better than last semester. Truly impressive is the power numbers out of Keio and Hosei, IMO -- and how far Waseda has fallen.

Team pitching:

Keio 1.61 1.04 8.09 3.00
Meiji 2.10 0.99 8.49 2.03
Rikkio 2.20 1.28 5.90 3.27
Hosei 2.83 1.36 6.93 3.15
Waseda 4.61 1.52 8.92 5.50
Tokyo 5.10 1.74 3.90 5.57

Again, amusing to see how far Waseda has fallen now that they don't have their Big Three... and kind of sad with Hosei. I hope Kazuki Mishima has a better semester in the fall. It'd be nice to see him and Mikami as starters but also to have Funamoto and Yoshikoshi get some quality innings in...

I dunno. The one thing is that Rikkio really pushed forward a lot this semester in most ways. If Komuro can repeat his performance and one other pitcher can step up at all (Hayato Saitoh, I'm looking at you), it's going to be a pretty serious race in the fall. Basically, I think every team has improved in some way since last year except Waseda, which took a huge punch in the face. A lot of individuals will be looking towards their own personal goals, and of course the scouts will be out there looking particularly closely at Nomura and Itoh. Some of the Koshien hero 1st-years may get some more time out on the field as well.

On that note, almost every school has posted their summer camp and preseason info. Meiji is going to KOREA for a week! I wrote a birthday card to Tomoya Kumabe and told him to have a good trip (and to convince the team to visit the US next time...)

Rikkio: Miyazaki camp from Aug 2-13 and preseason game schedule
Meiji: Nagano camp from Aug 4-13, and Korea trip from Aug 16-22, and preseason game schedule
Hosei: preseason game schedule
Waseda: preseason game schedule
Tokyo: preseason game schedule

If anyone actually does want to venture out to any of these games and wants some tips on getting to their stadiums, let me know. I've been to Meiji and Hosei's grounds a whole bunch...

On that note, I'm still glued to Koshien qualifier scores, and I even managed to watch Hosei Dai-ni's game the other day over -- it was really nice to see a Hosei game even if it wasn't *my* Hosei team. I won't be at Koshien this year, but I should be in Japan for some of the fall 2011 semester of college games!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Short takes

You remember Ryuji Tachibana? The guy who went to the Mets in '97 as a conditioning coach, and worked for Bobby Valentine for several years with the Marines, and so on? Yeah, this guy? Apparently he's been working with the Rikkio University team as a coach as well. I believe Kenichi Yazawa is still working with the Tokyo University team off and on too. Wouldn't it be amazing if Rikkio managed to win the Big 6 this fall and Todai managed to win a game?

Anyway, I have no real point here, I just felt like posting. I started a Twitter account, which may be more useful when I go to Japan this fall.

Qualifying tournaments for Koshien are going on all over the place. I am, for the record, pulling for Nichidai San in West Tokyo (which should surprise nobody, and I really ought to finish my series on them), though if they don't make it I guess I hope Waseda Jitsugyo does again, because Konsu Yasuda is now their team captain and I was pretty captivated by him last summer, despite that I'm anti-Waseda on principle.

East Tokyo, I'm hoping for either Shutoku, Kanto Daiichi, or Teikyo. Well, or as a complete dark horse, Rikkio Ikebukuro. My student who I went to watch last year is now catching and batting cleanup for the team, and they've got a sophomore pitcher named Nishino who is apparently pretty good.

Shutoku, I have a former student who's a 1st-year there, so he didn't make the roster, but I still want their team to do well.

Kanto Daiichi, in an even more bizarre coincidence, their ace pitcher Ryo Minakawa (pictured on this page) is the older brother of one of the most annoying boys I had to deal with at my JHS last year. And their shortstop Yutaka Saitoh played for Arakawa Senior.

Teikyo, well, I used to live a 10-minute bike ride from there, and I've been a big fan of a lot of their alumni. Takuro Itoh, the boy who wowed everyone two years ago as a freshman who could throw 148km/h, is now the real #1-wearing ace and in his last tournament, and so it'll be interesting to see if he'll bring them back to Koshien this year too. He's also a heck of a hitter.

Also, not that anyone's looking, but Saga Kita just won another game today, so they've made it into Best 8. I'm still a fan of the Saga Kita 2007 miracle team, and would love to see their school make it to Koshien again.

I forgot to watch the All-Star game over here, and I dunno whether I'll manage to watch any of the Japanese ones, but the rosters are pretty crazy. Mostly, I'm delighted to see Shintaro Ejiri make it -- he was one of my favorite Fighters for a long time, and it's good to see him succeeding over on the other side of the bay. Also, it would have been nice to see Shota Ishimine make it as a first-year rather than Yuki Saitoh, but I'm biased.

Also, on a non-baseball, but Japanese-related note: if anyone's going to be in San Francisco at the B'z concert on Friday the 22nd, let me know.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Photopost: Japan-US College Tourney, Game 2 -- Cary On

This is the game that was supposed to happen Monday night but became the morning game of a double-header on Tuesday. Originally, had Game 2 happened as planned in Durham, Game 3 was going to be at 7pm on Tuesday night in Cary, but instead, they put Game 2 at 11am in Cary, and then had Game 3 at 6pm in Durham.

For those wondering, they're really only 20 minutes apart or so. We looked at the weather in the morning on Tuesday and were able to get to the park in Cary fairly easily. The Cary game was at the National Training Complex, which is huge and has four full MLB-scale baseball fields. Undoubtedly, a big reason why this series took place in North Carolina at all is because USA Baseball is based there. I definitely got the impression, from talking to people, that this series was more of a showcasing for the US college players than for anyone scouting the Japanese college players, although the scouts were certainly watching Fujioka and Sugano.

Anyway, it was really hot and sunny, and we found a place to sit on the Japan side, right behind the dugout -- and immediately I ran into my friends from the other game, who said "Good thing you made it! We found out about this game when we got back to our hotel!" and I'm like "So did we!" I also ran into some of the cameramen I sat with for Game 1.

I got a photo with 3 guys from Team USA, who happened to be standing around by the team tent. I felt like, hey, might as well ask, it couldn't hurt, right? It's funny how all the US guys seem to be 6'3", really.

Me with Tyler Naquin, Michael Lorensen, and Erich Weiss.

I went to the bullpen to take pictures of Takahiro Fujioka warming up because he's awesome. As I was taking photos, there was this older guy watching Fujioka throw too. He saw my Chunichi shirt and asked me in Japanese, "You a Kawakami fan?" and I'm like "Yeah, when he was on Chunichi I really liked him. Nomura reminds me of him, you know?" and we got to talking. He asked if I was working at the game and I said no, I was just a big fan, and no, I didn't get to see Kawakami on this trip, though he's still playing in the minors here, etc. He asks if I've watched a lot of college ball and I explain that I loved college ball when I lived in Japan. So he asks if I saw Yuki Saitoh, and I'm like "...well, of course..." and then I admit that I'm a Fighters fan actually, but I start going on about how frustrating the media can be for players like Saitoh, and like they were in the past for Nakata Sho, and Darvish, and so on. And my favorite player was Hichori.

Well, uh, get this... this guy I was talking to was none other than Masao Yamada.


Wow, do I talk too much. But, he seemed really amused by me -- and he kept saying "kuwashii!" which is Japanese for "Geez, you know EVERYTHING, don't you?" He gave me his business card, but sadly it doesn't have an email address. Also, he was there scouting with Matt Winters -- after the tourney they were going to go barnstorming through the southern US and hunt for some AAA guys that the Fighters might be interested in bringing over to Japan. He offered to introduce me to Winters, which sadly never happened. Alas.

I did put in my own two cents about how the first time I saw Fujioka was because I had come to a Toyodai game in the hopes of seeing Masahiro Inui pitch, and saw Fujioka (then a sophomore) instead, and have been watching him for the past 3 years and honestly think he's better than Inui. The Fighters drafted Inui in the 4th round this past fall and were really high on him. Yamada laughed and thanked me for my input.

Fujioka finished warming up and I called out, "Fujioka-kun! Ganbatte kudasai!" and he tipped his cap at me with a slight bow.

As the game was getting underway, a small ouendan materialized, too. Some people from the Japanese society at Duke showed up with a real taiko drum (which they said they built here in the USA). A guy in a Hanshin cap brought some blue megaphones, and so we were all yelling encouragement at the Japan team in Japanese. The first time the taiko drum beats happened, the entire Japan team came out of the dugout and looked up like "WTF?!" but they seemed happy about it.

I should also mention that the announcer at this game, while being SLIGHTLY better at the Japanese names than the one in Durham, was still pretty awful. He kept calling Hayata Itoh "Itu". To the point that some other guys in the dugout were yelling "ITU!!!" at him.

So, yeah, there was a game. For the first 6 innings it was a crazy pitcher's duel. Fujioka was amazing, he struck out 9 guys in 6 innings, with 2 hits and 2 walks. I stopped by to chat with Conor, who was sitting out with a radar gun and being all scout-like, and asked what he thought of Fujioka, and he said, "Your boy's pretty good. Nobody's getting solid contact off him at all."

Japan finally got a run ahead for 1-0 in the 6th, when Ryosuke Obuta singled and then Yoshihiro Ikeda hit a triple out to center, scoring Obuta. Daichi Suzuki walked and stole second, but then a pitching change later, Hayata Itoh struck out, and boy was he not happy about that. Nakashima replaced him in right field after that, and it almost looked like Itoh took himself out of the game, really.

Unfortunately, all hell broke loose in the 7th inning. Ficociello doubled, Elder singled to bring him in to tie the game at 1-1. Reynolds also singled, and then the US team orchestrated a delayed double steal -- that is, the Japan team threw to first and got Reynolds in a rundown and then Elder ran home, making it 2-1. Weiss pinch-hit and also singled, and then it was 3-1 and Fujioka came out of the game, which was very sad for me.

Tomoya Mikami replaced him on the mound, except that Mikami had literally been warming up since the 3rd inning or so, in this 95-degree heat. I was pretty sure he'd have nothing left in him by the time he got out there, and I was right -- Lorenzen bunted and got on when Mikami misfielded the ball, and then Fontana hit into a fielder's choice (but Obuta's throw to the plate was wide and so Weiss scored anyway, 4-1). Fontana got himself out in a rundown for the first out of the inning. Yay. Marrero singled, scoring Lorenzen; 5-1. Naquin doubled to left, scoring Marrero, 6-1. Elander singled to center, scoring Naquin, 7-1, and then Lyon pinch-ran for him. That was it for Mikami.

Lefty Yuta Iwasada replaced Mikami on the mound... and got a flyout from Ficociello, who was up yet again. A single from Elder brought Lyon to third but that was it as Reynolds grounded out to third to end the inning.

It was so depressing that I spent the 8th inning up in the small amount of shade the concourse offered, because I was really overheated, a little sunburnt, and quite thirsty. The Yomiuri cameraman I'd been chatting up earlier in the game asked, "You left your scorecard and camera?" and I said, "I can't bear to look at it again." I spent a while talking with him and another guy from Sponichi, which was interesting. (Amusingly, they asked "Have you considered writing about Japanese baseball?" and I felt too lame to say "I'm a semi-retired blogger...")

Anyway, I can tell you for a fact that the USA Baseball Box Score for this game has some errors -- notably, Koji Fukutani replaced Yuta Iwasada on the mound and pitched the 9th inning for Japan. Also, Tomoki Takata pinch-hit for Keisuke Okazaki in the bottom of the 9th as well.

Though, speaking of the 9th, more excitement happened when Dominic Ficociello had a broken bat foul and his BAT went flying into the stands right towards us! I ducked, the bat landed a few rows back. Mike went and retrieved it, and now we have a great souvenir from the game! In the US, college baseball players don't usually play with wooden bats, either, so it's kinda crazy. The bat was split straight down the handle part, there's still some tape on it.

Fukutani gave up another run, and the Japan team managed to score a run in that inning I was ignoring the game, so the USA team won the game 8-2. Whatever.

I took over 1000 photos during this game. A few came out somewhat decently.

First, here's way too many shots of Fujioka:

This was the USA starter Kevin Gausman. He has this ridiculously high leg kick. Conor tells me it's even more ridiculously high than it used to be.

Tomoya Mikami is a pretty tall pitcher from Hosei, so I've seen him quite a bit. He's quite tall for a Japanese guy (190cm), and converted from an infielder to a pitcher his freshman year of college.

Here's lefty Yuta Iwasada, from Yokohama Shokadai.

And here's Koji Fukutani out there on the mound pitching the 9th for Japan (well, the first is in the bullpen). He's Keio's closer, it would have been nice if he was holding a lead...

(he's always had this kinda weird head twist after he throws a pitch...)

Here's Hodaka Yamakawa, the boy who hit that huge homer in Game 1 and was launching them during batting practice, but only managed to hit a long long fly ball during this game...

(Doing his best Batozaki imitation?)

It would have been nice to see Hayata Itoh smile at all during the game, but...

Here he is in the field.

Hitting a fly out, sadly.

And striking out. Not the best day for the boy who is usually super-clutch whenever I see him play.

Hosei's Hiroshi Taki, who had a pretty crappy day at the plate. It seems he got a lot better once I stopped watching him...

Warming up.

At first base.

...this looks cool but in reality he's about to hit a foul. :(

Rissho's catcher Yuta Yoshida, former Sanko captain, etc. I hope I can find him again when I'm back in Japan sometime.

Yuji Kaneko, switch-hitting third baseman from Ritsumeikan. I liked him both in the field and at the plate, but I pretty much never get to see Kansai college ball. Switch-hitters are really rare in Japan for whatever reason.

Waseda's Koki Sasaki. I feel like I've seen him play a lot over the last few years, and yet I'm not really sure I have an opinion on him. Still not sure why Habu wasn't on this team. Either way, I took a bunch of photos of him because my Waseda fan friends wanted some.

(It looks like he's going to score, but no, the ball was caught.)

Toyodai captain and national team captain, shortstop Daichi Suzuki. Got one of two RBIs for Japan in this game.

Catcher Ryutaro Umeno, who tried his hardest at the plate to tag these guys out, but it just wasn't meant to be.

With Fujioka, the starting battery.


Trying to tag out Lorenzen.

Trying to tag out Weiss.

Second baseman Ryosuke Obuta, from Tohoku Fukushi. Scored both of Japan's runs in this game, bizarrely.

(this is him scoring the first run)

Rikkio's captain, Keisuke Okazaki, who went to PL Gakuen HS. Okazaki was coaching first base for Game 1, and finally made it into this game as a pinch-hitter and first baseman to replace Taki, in the 7th inning.

Meiji sophomore Hiroki Nakashima, whose job in this series seems to basically have been platooning with Hayata Itoh and replacing him in right field.

Hosei alum and current manager, Koji Kanemitsu.

The Japan dugout at some point about halfway through the game.

Final depressing score:

Teams shake hands together, before prepping to go back to Durham to play ANOTHER game...

These people brought a taiko drum to the game and were drumming to cheer for the Japanese team:

Mike retrieves the broken bat flung towards us by Ficociello:

And here's what the entire field looked like (since I've mostly just posted zoomed in shots of players):

After the game we drove back to Charlotte. By random chance, we pulled off the highway to refuel in Kannapolis and realized we were right by FIeldcrest Cannon Stadium, so we drove over there and looked around a bit. This is where Game 4 was played... well... more like, this is where the first 3 innings of Game 4 were played, before it was rain delayed for 2 days and continued today in Omaha. (No, really.)

Looks like a nice enough stadium for a Low-A place (it's home of the Kannapolis Intimidators), although I swear it also looked like a converted racetrack to me. I dunno.


One final story here would be that broken bat we got -- we realized that we definitely couldn't take the bat on the plane with us back to Seattle. Maybe as checked luggage, but even so, it might count as a sharp weapon either way.

So we decided to ship it back home.

We tell the car navi system to find us the nearest post office, which it does, about 4 miles away.

Arriving at the post office, we walk in with the bat, grab a long container and some bubble wrap, and go up to the counter to explain that we got the bat at the game, etc, expecting to get some weird looks.

Instead, the guy behind the counter totally freaks out like "MY NEIGHBOR'S A SCOUT FOR THE WHITE SOX! OH MAN I WAS TOTALLY GOING TO GO TO THE GAME!"

He starts showing the bat to all the other employees like "Look what these lucky bastards got at the Team USA game this afternoon."

Anyway, we eventually manage to wrap the thing in bubblewrap and cram it into the shipping tube, fill out the address thingy, etc. In the process of doing that we talked to the counter guy, who mentioned he'd even thought of going to the 4th of July game. We tell him it got rescheduled to later that night, and Mike even gave him his ticket, since we weren't going to use it, we're like "Well, this will get you in for free if you decide you want to go! There'll be fireworks!"

The bat did show up as scheduled on Thursday afternoon. It was much easier to get OUT of the shipping tube than it was to get IN. Now my only problem is that I'm not really sure what to do with it! I've got display boxes for baseballs, but for broken bats? I'll have to figure something out. In the meantime, the cats are really frustrated that they can't fit into the shipping container. I tried to explain to them that it was for bats, not cats, but you know how these things go.